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Supporters dominate Island County tax forum

Coupeville resident Gary Wray answers a question while League of Women Voters President Mendy McLean-Stone attempts to enforce a response time limit at Monday’s forum in Coupeville on Island County’s proposed property tax hike. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Coupeville resident Gary Wray answers a question while League of Women Voters President Mendy McLean-Stone attempts to enforce a response time limit at Monday’s forum in Coupeville on Island County’s proposed property tax hike.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

At a League of Women Voters forum in Coupeville Monday, opposers of Island County’s Proposition 1 found themselves outnumbered and on the defensive.

The format of the July 19 forum, which was held in Sno-Isle Libraries’ newly remodeled Coupeville branch, allowed the public to hear from members of the community arguing for and against the proposition. And while the mood was light and the conversation amicable, the crowd made it clear that many in the room were very much in support of the proposed property-tax hike.

The arguments followed a presentation by Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow that detailed why the county is asking for Proposition 1. The resolution the board of commissioners adopted this past May was to fill a projected $2 million shortfall in the 2011 budget by asking voters to approve a 16 cent property tax increase. The money would be used to retain county services at their current level.

If the measure is approved, the owner of a $250,000 home would be pay an extra $40 a year on top of the $147.50 they would already pay next year under the 2011 rate, which will be set at $59 per $1,000 of assessed value. The total price for such a homeowner would be $187.50.

Arguing in support of the levy hike, Coupeville residents Jack and Sue Tingstad opened with the same prepared statement they read at a recent county-sponsored forum on Proposition 1 in Oak Harbor. Their letter urges voters to put aside politics and petty arguments and support the measure, as it will benefit the whole community.

Coupeville resident Gary Wray argued against the proposal, saying he believed the measure could be more taxing than county officials are leading on. He also argued that a property tax hike is not the answer during a recession.

“The fix is prioritizing and getting creative,” Wray said.

He was immediately asked by Gary Piazzon, also a Coupeville resident, how he would fix the problem. Wray responded by saying that he is not the right person to ask that question. That is something to ask the commissioners, he said. They are the ones who should be thinking of creative ways to save money, such as supplementing county offices with free interns.

Jack Tingstad responded by saying the existing board has done everything possible to address the county’s financial crisis.

“This current board of commissioners has been the most creative board that I’ve seen in 40 years,” he said, which resulted in applause erupting from the crowd.

Wray also argued that the county is spinning the numbers to make them seem as though the measure will have less of an impact. County officials have presented the proposed tax hike as an increase of just 3 percent, but that applies to the total property tax rate, which is about $7.25. This proposal is actually an increase of 27 percent, as it will only fund the current expense fund, which has a rate of 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, he said.

“They haven’t been lying to you, they just haven’t been explaining it well,” Wray said.

Jack Tingstad closed by saying he believed the vast majority of the people in the room would vote for the Proposition 1 because they care about their families and neighborhoods.

“Not plugging this hole would cost much more in the long run,” Jack Tingstad said. “This is not a partisan issue. It’s about the quality of life in our entire community.”

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